For over fifty years, Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, has been known as the creative and innovative hub for high-end contemporary woven artisanry. This has helped position the country as a world leader in the production of modern handmade carpets, and has earned its hand-knotted carpets a high level of esteem among luxury interior design markets worldwide.
The story of Nepal’s success in the handmade carpet industry was spawned by the highly concentrated network of production that arose in Kathmandu during the 1960s. This community of makers propelled the exceptional creativity and innovation that was instrumental in developing its handmade carpet industry and high level of customization. Recently, however, the production community of Kathmandu has been confronted with increasing challenges brought on by the city’s booming real estate market and labour shortages. As a result, the once-thriving industry is becoming increasingly fragile.
Confronting the issues
To confront these issues, Label STEP is supporting the establishment of decentralized carpet production. The international fair trade organization, which has been promoting good working and living conditions for Nepal’s weavers and a sustainable future for the carpet industry for more than 20 years, is collaborating with UKaid’s Skills for Employment program and a few pioneering carpet exporters and international buyers to create a new success model for the Nepali carpet industry. This model, based on establishing Artisan Villages in the rural districts of Sarlahi and Siraha in Province 2, where many skilled weavers already live, will leverage the knowledge and experience of expert makers and manufacturers along with modern communication technology. This approach is expected to make managing various production processes from a distance a viable and desirable alternative to centralization. By working alongside international designers and technical experts, the carpets produced in the Sarlahi and Siraha Artisan Villages will continue to meet the high-quality standards for which Nepali handmade rugs are known.
Decentralized production in Artistan Villages
During its first phase, this project will establish eight weaving workshops across Sarlahi and Siraha—all designed and organised in compliance with STEP’s fair trade standards. The Artisan Villages will promote gender equality and social inclusion and will help improve the livelihoods of marginalized communities—particularly those of women and people with disabilities. Of the 500 jobs created during the first year’s pilot phase, 100 will be reserved for people with disabilities. Weavers will also benefit from STEP’s Empowerment Program aimed at increasing workers’ knowledge and capabilities through education and training. This program—a first in the carpet industry—has benefited more than 6 000 people in Kathmandu since 2016, and its most recent module on financial literacy has helped roughly 1 200 weavers to reach greater financial security through increased awareness, the establishment of bank accounts, and participating in saving groups and plans. This financial literacy training also aids in catalysing and encouraging local women-led weaving start-ups.
Reliable jobs, fair trade and sustainability
In the face of Kathmandu’s real estate squeeze and labour shortages, the Sarlahi and Siraha Artisan Villages will offer a solution that benefits manufacturers, weavers and workers. The project will ensure that production needs continue to be met by highly motivated and skilled weavers living and working closer to home in more affordable rural areas. The Artisan Village model will not only provide reliable jobs with fair trade working conditions for up to 4 500 job seekers in less economically developed regions of the country by 2022, it will also provide a welcome influx of fresh air and energy into the industry and support its long-term sustainability.
To learn more about this project or to get involved, please contact us.